METRO honors disabled veterans with free transportation

HOUSTON – Getting around Houston highways quickly can feel like a luxury—particularly when taking advantage of HOV or HOT lanes to avoid congestion.

Disabled veterans may soon find this to be a little less challenging.

Wednesday METRO board members voted to approve a pilot program that would allow qualified disabled service members to access METRO’s High Occupancy Vehicle/High Occupancy Toll Lanes for free during off-peak hours.

Several veterans attended the meeting to voice their support for the program.

"We write a blank check when we sign the papers. Including to and up to our life,” said Air Force Veteran Justin Markham, Sr. of his military service.

“And we're not asking you because we deserve this, we're just asking you to do this because it's right."
But the passage of the program did not come without dissent.

Lisa Castañeda, the deputy director for the Harris County Toll Road Authority, voiced her concerns about the program’s sustainability and the strain it would put on already-crowded HOV lanes.

"I'm hoping that the board can look at all the different ways that we can show our respect and find great programs for the disabled vet community that don't negatively impact the tools that we have to work with,” Castañeda said.

Other board members noted that METRO could be in jeopardy of losing federal funding if average operating speeds dip below 45 miles-per-hour.

Board members eventually pushed the resolution forward with the caveat of ensuring the program “does not negatively impact the speed and reliability of carpool, van pool and bus service."

METRO noted that staff will continue to look into the pilot program’s impact on service, and did not determine a potential end date.

Free tickets for qualified disabled veterans to ride METRO busses, METRORail and park and ride service will begin April 11.

A METRO spokesperson said veterans will be able to register for the pilot program at that time.